Tag Archives: music industry

Other people’s lives: the schooldays of UK music legend Simon Napier-Bell

This blog is occasionally called a “comedy blog”, but it is really about interesting people doing interesting, often creative, things – and about other people’s often far-from-normal lives. 

Of course, ‘normal’ is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Simon Napier-Bell has been called (by Billboard magazine) a “multi-hyphenate British entrepreneur”, (by many) “a bon viveur”, (by himself on his own websitean “author, songwriter, film-maker and public speaker” and (by the Guardian and others) “one of Britain’s most successful ever pop managers”.

The acts he managed included Marc Bolan and T Rex, Boney M, George Michael and Wham!, Sinéad O’Connor, Ultravox… and the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

He currently lives in Thailand.

Today is his 79th birthday.

These are his thoughts:


Because it’s my birthday today I was searching though the past to find a good birthday to write about.

An intimidating evening of conversation with Harold Pinter, Clive Donner and Donald Pleasance at the Connaught in the 1960s.

An extravagantly debauched dinner with Spanish pop stars Camilo Sesto and Antonio Morales at the Masquerade Club in Earls Court in the 70s.

A Beluga binge at Petrossian in New York with Vicki Wickham in the 80s.

Not to mention all the birthday dinners with special friends of the moment, or the ones that ended up with too much boozing in night clubs, often with much shagging afterwards.

One birthday that jumped to mind was rather different. It was my first year at public school and the start of the summer term. I was still in what was called a ‘junior’ house, with a cantankerous, malevolent housemaster – Mr Hoare.

Bryanston School in Dorset (Photograph by Ben Brooksbank)

Two terms earlier I’d arrived from grammar school with the wrong accent and the wrong attitude. I’d quickly modified my accent but hadn’t done so well with my attitude. 

Everything I did or said seemed to rile Mr Hoare terribly; he hated me. And inevitably I hated him back.

On my 14th birthday, my best friend took me to the tuck shop and asked me what I’d like. Not wanting to overtax his good nature, I modestly chose a can of condensed milk.

That evening, with the can only half finished, I discreetly smuggled it into the dormitory and after lights out handed it round. Then the lights flashed on again.

It was Mr Hoare. I was hauled out of the room, taken downstairs and made to sleep on a camp bed in the cupboard where the cleaning utensils were kept – a couple of Hoovers, buckets, mops, that sort of thing.

That wasn’t the only present he gave me for my 14th birthday. The second one was to make me sleep there for the rest of the term. And instead of being able to use the communal bathroom and toilets I had to use an outside shack in the garden. It wasn’t how I would have chosen to live for the next ten weeks but I’ve always been one to cope with situations, so I just got on with it.

On the last day of term, as the coach was arriving to take us all to the railway station, Mr Hoare presented me with my two-month old, half-finished can of condensed milk. 

Disdainfully, I threw it into the waste bin. Mr Hoare was splenetic, “Napier-Bell. Aren’t we meant to say thank-you when someone gives us something?”

In my purest, sweetest public school tones, I said’ “Thank-you, sir.” But as I turned to get on the coach I was shocked to hear my mouth add something totally unintended. “And I hope you die, sir.”

It was certainly what I felt but definitely not something I’d intended to say. I spent the holidays in dread of the inevitable letter to my parents telling them I’d been expelled, but it never came.

And when I went back to school the next term I was in a new house with a new housemaster and no mention was made of what I’d said. A little later however, at morning assembly, the headmaster informed the school that Mr Hoare had died.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t pleased. But it was still quite a shock. And I have to admit from then on I’ve been rather careful about wishing bad on anybody. So for my birthday today, good wishes to everybody. May you all have long, happy, lovely lives.

(But never take a child’s condensed milk away.)

 

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Filed under Education, Music, UK

Showbiz and TV talent shows before Margaret Thatcher

I had lunch last week with the highly entertaining Derek Hobson, host of ITV’s seminal talent show New Faces, which was responsible for the ‘discovery’ of Michael Barrymore, the wonderful Marti Caine, Jim Davidson, Les Dennis, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood etc in the pre-Thatcher 1970s. He reminded me about the old union-dominated days at ATV (where I worked a various times). Lenny Henry was chosen by the producers to be on New Faces and it made him a star, but it took a whole year before he was seen on screen because the unions only allowed card-carrying Equity or Musicians’ Union members to appear on the show.

Derek told me that, when Yorkshire TV recorded its classic sitcom Rising Damp, which was screened on ITV as six-part series, the company used to schedule recordings for seven episodes per series on the basis that one entire episode would always be lost due to Luddite practices during the recordings by the all-powerful ACTT union. I well remember their pre-Thatcher power. The ACTT was less a union protecting its members, more a protection racket threatening employers and running a heavily enforced closed shop.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists at ATV, I suggested a documentary to be transmitted on the 40th anniversary of the 1940 Wartime bombing of Coventry (and provided research and sources) but I was not allowed to be employed nor credited as a researcher on the show because I was not an ACTT member and researchers could only be ACTT members.

Derek also told me the story of a singer who triumphantly performed on one edition of New Faces, wowing the judges, the studio audience and the viewers at home. The response was immense. On the Monday after the show was transmitted, the singer received a phone call from the manager of two of the biggest music acts of the time – acts with a similar style. The manager wanted to sign the singer to an exclusive management contract. The singer was overwhelmed and flattered to be approached by the high-profile and highly successful manager; he  thought his career was made and his life would be transformed. But, in fact, the manager wanted to sign the singer because he saw a potential threat to his two existing acts. The singer was too similar; he was given ten duff songs in a row to record, his potential career was destroyed and the manager’s two existing acts continued to prosper with no threat of competition.

So it goes.

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Filed under Comedy, Politics, Television